The plane has landed. I have been sitting in baggage claim for 60 minutes, the cold tile under my butt a harsh reminder that I’ve been without real sleep since the previous morning. It’s about 8 a.m. and I am in Geneva, Switzerland. It’s surreal, really, thinking that I am back in Europe after all this time. While all of my friends and co-workers are heading off to the Dominican Republic or Cancun for Spring Break, Matt and I elected to vacation in an area synonymous with snow, a choice both spontaneous and unusual, I will admit.
It all happened rather quickly; we had every intention to venture out to the Cayman Islands where we could stay rather cheaply and drink rather heavily, and come back with a nice golden tan. But when those plans fell through, we started looking up flight information just for the hell of it: Ireland, Greece, South Africa, Iceland. It wasn’t until a photograph of the sun-drenched Swiss Alps popped up in a magazine ad that Switzerland even came on our radar.
After about one night of research and number crunching, Matt and I booked our plane tickets – for $100 each.
Fast forward to today. Employees at the Geneva airport are on strike and the travelers (many of whom were on my flight) are impatient. Everyone is rushed and everyone, it seems, has somewhere to be. It’s almost comforting, the hum of the traveler’s march – people, like ants, scurrying off to their important meetings or speaking in elegant tongues as they wait in baggage claim. And in the midst of all this beauty are Matt and I, two Americans sitting on the floor of the airport in our jeans, one bag to the left of each of us, two bags under each of our eyes.
When we finally step outside, the reality of this place and the nature of our travels hasn’t yet hit me. It isn’t until we hop on our first Swiss bus that I can actually breathe a sigh of relief that I am on vacation and that I am here.
Patches of tilled farmland flit past the bus windows. The large clear waters of Lake Geneva bleed into large swaths of green fields freckled with small, wooden chateaus. The procession is only broken when we reach Geneva, famous for its fountain and the headquarters of the United Nations, a concrete jungle. Unsure of where to go and how to navigate, Matt approaches a kind-looking man standing near him on the bus and asks for confirmation that we plan to get off at the right stop. The man, who does not speak a lick of English, gestures and says, “C’est la même.” He is going to the same place and will show us the way.
A bus stop and another short trip later, the man picks up my luggage and rolls it all the way to the hotel for me. In what little French I can still speak since my middle and high school language classes, I thank him and we go our separate ways. Matt and I are happily relieved to have arrived at our room (which overlooks a fútbol stadium, by the way!) and drop our bags. Feeling considerably lighter and with a renewed excitement for the day ahead, we begin our journey. First stop: Montreux.
Nestled in a sheltered Lake Geneva bay, the town of Montreux is about an hour’s train ride from Geneva and is situated against the breathtaking backdrop of the snow-covered Alps. Sitting magnificently across the lake from the town, the mountains, covered by a thin film of haze, looked as if they were almost screened back or overlayed upon the background. A real-life movie set.
Along the promenade, we strolled hand-in-hand past cypress-lined parks, beds of multicolored flowers and palms trees, glancing every once and a while toward the banks of France. Our main purpose for this visit to Montreux was the Château de Chillon, described by Freddie Mercury as “Heaven on Earth.” (This was also featured in this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, a fact Matt would not let me forget.)